Mutualism between fire ants and mealybugs reduces lady beetle predation.
Solenopsis invicta Buren is an important invasive pest that has a negative impact on biodiversity. However, current knowledge regarding the ecological effects of its interaction with honeydew-producing hemipteran insects is inadequate. To partially address this problem, we assessed whether the interaction between the two invasive species S. invicta and Phenacoccus solenopsis Tinsley mediated predation of P. solenopsis by Propylaea japonica Thunbery lady beetles using field investigations and indoor experiments. S. invicta tending significantly reduced predation by the Pr. japonica lady beetle, and this response was more pronounced for lady beetle larvae than for adults. A field investigation showed that the species richness and quantity of lady beetle species in plots with fire ants were much lower than in those without fire ants. In an olfaction bioassay, lady beetles preferred to move toward untended rather than tended mealybugs. Overall, these results suggest that mutualism between S. invicta and P. solenopsis may have a serious impact on predation of P. solenopsis by lady beetles, which could promote growth of P. solenopsis populations.